My Dad’s World War II Story
Blue sky, puffy clouds, patriotic music wafting through the air with the smell of lilac; Memorial Day 2017. As I drove past the VA on 22nd Street behind a painfully slow-moving vehicle, I was almost ready to tap the horn to hasten their movement, when I saw it-- the “I served in Vietnam” window sticker.
I thought better of the horn and said out loud, “thank you”. He eventually pulled over and parked, no doubt to attend the Sioux Falls Municipal Band concert which was getting underway. Then I began contemplating other service people from other wars and remember that I had a veteran of my own, but not in the way most Americans did.
My father was an American citizen. He was born in New York City on December 2nd, 1920. For reasons beyond my knowledge or comprehension, he and his family went back to Italy when he was around the age of 3 or 4 and lived there until he was about 22.
Daddy became part of World War II, like a lot of young Italian men back then. He was pressed into service to fight under Mussolini. You were, however, offered an “either/or”. Either you accepted conscription into the Italian army, or your family would disappear, forever.
So into the fray he went, but not for very long. He and a fellow shanghaied soldier deserted and headed up and over the Alps toward the Allied lines, to surrender. The only thing that they could find to eat was whatever they could dig out of the snow, like grass roots. It was the reason, my dad hated any vegetable which grew underground, for the rest of his life.
When they made it to the Allied lines, (there is some uncertainty as to whether it was the British or the Americans) they were taken prisoner, but because my father was a doctor he was pressed into a different kind of service. It was one that he was proud to perform and excelled at; helping tend to wounded and ailing Allied soldiers. His detour into World War II was the catalyst for him returning to the U.S.
The whys and hows of the rest of his story are lost to the mysteries of time. The questions which should have been asked and conversations which should have been had, weren't. But like many soldiers of that era, discussing their experiences was not something many of them did. My father was no exception, a situation, exacerbated I'm sure, by the tangled circumstances of his participation.
I wonder now how many other fathers and grandfathers had similar stories.